Sunday, October 2, 2011

Bridging the mobility (and fashion) divide: can enterprise IT think more like the consumer world?

GigaOm’s Mobilize 2011 conference last week seemed to be a tale of two worlds – the enterprise world and the consumer world – and how they can effectively incorporate mobility into their day-to-day business. And in some cases, how they are failing to do that.

I could feel that some of the speakers (like Steve Herrod of VMware and Tom Gillis of Cisco) were approaching some of the mobility issues on the table with their traditional big, complex, enterprise-focused world firmly in view. Of course, that approach also values robustness, reliability, and incremental improvements. It’s what enterprises and their IT departments reward, and rightly so.

But there was another group of speakers at Mobilize, too: those who come at things with the consumer world front and center. Mobility was certainly not optional for these guys. Another telling difference: the first thing on the mind of these folks was user experience. This included the speakers from Pandora, Twitter, and Instagram, among others.

Even fashion was a dead give-away

In what seemed like an incidental observation at first, I’d swear you could tell what side of this enterprise/consumer divide someone would fall on based on how Mobilize speakers and attendees were dressed. The enterprise-trained people in the room (and I have no choice but to begrudgingly put myself in this category) were sporting dress shirts, slacks, and shiny shoes. Those that were instead part of the mobile generation were much more casual, in a simplistically chic sort of way. Jeans, definitely. Plus a comfortable shirt that looked a bit hipper. And most definitely not tucked in.

This latter group talked about getting to the consumer, with very cool ideas and cooler company names, putting a premium on the user experience. Of course, many of these were also still in search of a real, sustainable business model.

So, GigaOm did a good job of bringing these two camps together, and giving them a place to talk through the issues. The trick now? Make sure the two contingents don’t talk past each other and instead learn what the other has to offer to bridge this divide.

Impatience with the enterprise IT approach?

In conversations with blogger and newly minted GigaOm contributor Dave O’Hara (@greenm3) and others at the event, I got a feeling that some of the folks immersed in the mobile side of the equation don’t have a good feel for the true extent of what enterprise adoption of a lot of these still-nascent technologies can mean, revenue-wise especially. Nor do they have a good understanding of all the steps required to make it happen in IT big organizations.

Getting enterprises to truly embrace what mobility can mean for them faces many of the same hurdles I’ve seen over the past few years with cloud computing. Even if the concepts seem good, enterprise adoption is not always as simple as it seems like it should be. Or as fast as those with consumer experience would expect or want.

That’s where maybe folks with an enterprise bent, I think (selfishly, probably) can have a useful role. If you can get enterprise IT past the initial knee-jerk “no way are you bringing that device into my world” reaction, there are some great places that these new, smart, even beautiful mobile devices could make a difference.

Getting the enterprises to listen

The mobile trends being identified at Mobilize 2011 were on target in many cases, but in some cases even the lingo could have rubbed those with enterprise backgrounds the wrong way – or seemed slightly tone-deaf to what enterprises have to deal with.

Olof Schybergson (@Olof_S), CEO of Fjord, made some really intriguing points, for example, about key mobile service trends: digital is becoming physical. The economy of mash-up services needs orchestrators. Privacy is now a kind of currency. And, the user is the new operating system when it comes to thinking about mobile services.

There were many good thoughts there that IT guys in a large organization would probably take as logical, or even a given. But that last point, the bit about the user being an OS, just doesn’t ring true, and would probably get a few of the enterprise IT guys to scratch their heads.

The user isn’t the OS; he or she is the design point and the most important entity – the one calling the shots. Instead, the user is really the focal point of the design for integrating mobile devices into the existing environment.

Consumerization is pressuring enterprise mobility

But many of the right issues came up in Philippe Winthrop’s panel on mobility in the enterprise.

Bob Tinker from MobileIron believed that this is indeed all coming together nicely and we’ll look back and see that “2011 was the year that mobile IT was born. It was the year that the IT industry figured out mobile. It’s the year the mobile industry figured out IT.” Why? For no other reason than there is no other option. And, people are themselves becoming more tech savvy, something he called the “ITization of the consumer.”

Chuck Goldman from Apperian noted that there is considerable pressure on the C-suite in large enterprises not just to begin to figure out how to incorporate a broad array of mobile devices, but to “build apps that are not clunky.”

Tinker agreed that the IT consumerization effect is significant. “Users are expecting the same level of mobility they have in their consumer world in their workplace. And I think the ramifications for this are fairly profound.” That seems to be the underlying set-up for much of what’s happening in the enterprise around mobility, for sure.

Mobility is causing disruption…and opportunity

Which begs the question: who is looking at the integration of consumer and enterprise approaches in the right way to bridge this gap? At Mobilize, Cisco and VMware certainly were talking about doing so. I saw tweets from the Citrix analyst symposium from the week before about some of the efforts they are doing to try to connect the dots here.

But mobile will turn IT on its head, said Tinker in the panel. And it will rearrange the winners and losers in the vendor space along the way. “Look at the traditional IT industry and ask how will they adapt to mobile. Many of them will not,” said Tinker.

To me, this signals a market with a lot of opportunity. Especially to innovate in a way or at a speed that makes it hard for some of these larger companies to deliver on. Frankly, it’s one of the opportunity areas that my New Thing is definitely immersed in. And I expect other start-ups to do the same.

Another golden chance for IT to lead

Apperian’s Goldman believes that this is a great chance for IT, in much same way that I’ve argued cloud computing can be. The move to adopt mobility as part of a company’s mainstream way of delivering IT means that “IT has an opportunity here that is golden,” said Goldman. “It gives them the opportunity to be thought leaders. Once you start doing that, your employees start loving IT and that love translates into good will” and impacts your organization’s top and bottom lines.

Loving IT? To most, that sounds like crazy talk.

It certainly won’t be easy. Getting ahead of the curve on IT consumerization and mobility requires a bit of imagination on the side of the enterprises, and a bit of patience and process-orientation by the folks who understand mobile. It will require people who have been steeped in enterprise IT, but are willing to buck the trend and try something new. It will require people with mobility chops who can sit still long enough to crack into a serious enterprise.

As for my part in this, it probably also means I’ll have to learn to wear jeans more often. Or at least leave my shirt untucked. And, frankly, I’m OK with that. I’ll keep you posted on both my take on this evolving market and my fashion sense.

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